Airlines Have Tweaked Basic Economy So They Can Get Even More Money From You

by joeheg

It’s been six months since I’ve looked into the big three airlines’ basic economy fares. In the meantime, we’ve flown on a basic economy flight on Delta and decided that as basic passengers with no status, these fares are not for us. We’d rather pay extra for the pleasure of being crammed into a regular economy seat but at least we’d be able to pick which seat we’re sitting in and have the pleasure to bring a carry on bag we can put into the overhead bin.

Each airline has made changes to the restrictions on basic economy fares so I think it’s time to look back at what’s changed. The BOLD TYPE indicates the changes since we’ve last checked.

American Airlines – Basic Economy


American Airlines hasn’t changed their policies in regards to Basic Economy since the last time I wrote about them. The most important change is that in the instance of irregular operations (storms, flight cancellations, etc.), American will re-book you on any available flight instead of only flights that have space in Basic Economy. Besides that, the rules have remained the same.

When you book a Basic Economy ticket with American, here’s what you get:

  • One item that fits under the seat in front of you (no access to overhead bins)
  • Seats are assigned at check-in
  • Fees to choose a specific seat
  • Not eligible for upgrades
  • No flight changes or refunds
  • Board in last group

For more clarification on baggage, American gives this guidance on their website:

You can board with 1 item like a purse or small handbag that fits under the seat in front of you and is not larger than 18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm). You won’t have access to overhead bins.

All other items must be checked at ticket counters and cannot be carried on. If you take them to the gate you’ll pay an extra $25 gate service fee per item plus the applicable bag fee.

American does have some exemptions for elite members of their AAdvantage program and those who hold a co-branded American Airlines credit card. They can:

  • Take 1 item that fits under the seat (no larger than 18 x 14 x 8 in.)
  • Take 1 item free of charge to store in the overhead bin (no larger than 22 x 14 x 9 in.)
  • Keep their priority or preferred boarding privileges
  • Keep their checked bag benefits

Delta Airlines – Basic Economy


By Richard Snyder from San Jose, CA, United States of America (Delta Air Lines N130DL Uploaded by Altair78) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Delta has not changed their Basic Economy fares that much. However, one change they’ve made can make a huge difference and cost you a bundle. Now, tickets purchased after December 6, 2017 for flights to/from Europe/North Africa that happen after April 10, 2018 will no longer include a free checked bag. The first checked bag will cost $60 and second bag will cost $100.

Delta Airlines updated version of Basic Economy comes with the following restrictions:

  • With Basic Economy, you will not receive a seat assignment until after check-in or at the gate.
  • Passengers traveling together, including families, may not be seated together
  • You will not be eligible for same-day changes or ticket refunds after the Risk Free Cancellation Period
  • You will board in the last zone and not be eligible for paid or complimentary upgrades or preferred seats, even with Medallion®Status
  • Checked baggage fees will apply, even when traveling internationally.

Frequent Delta flyers and cardholders of the co-branded Delta Skymiles American Express cards will still get some benefits when flying on basic economy:

When flying on a Basic Economy fare, Medallion members will continue to enjoy waived baggage fees, Priority Check-in, Priority Boarding and Medallion mileage bonuses. However, please note Medallion members will not receive paid or Complimentary Upgrades to first class, paid or complimentary Preferred Seats, or paid, or complimentary Delta Comfort+™ when flying on a Basic Economy fare.

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United Airlines – Basic Economy


United has made the most changes to their Basic Economy fares. They were the first ones to introduce these fares, so they needed to make adjustments to be competitive with the other airlines’ offerings. It also helps when they had to admit Basic Economy was not making them as much money as they thought it would but instead it was losing money.

  • Seat selection and upgrades are not available – When you choose a Basic Economy ticket, your seat will be automatically assigned prior to boarding, and you won’t be able to change your seat once it’s been assigned. Advance seat assignments may be available for purchase during booking and up until check-in opens. You will not be eligible to purchase Economy Plus® seating or receive Economy Plus subscription benefits. MileagePlus members, including Premier® members, cannot use complimentary, earned or mileage upgrades.
  • Please note that customers traveling in a group, including families, will not be able to sit together unless advance seat assignments are purchased and seats are available.
  •  Full-sized carry-on bags are not permitted – You’re not allowed a full-sized carry-on bag unless you’re a MileagePlus Premier member or companion traveling on the same reservation, the primary cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card or a Star Alliance™ Gold member. Everyone else who brings a full-sized carry-on bag to the gate will be required to check their bag and pay the applicable checked bag fee plus a $25 gate handling charge.
  • One personal item is allowed – You are allowed one small personal item that fits under the seat in front of you, such as a shoulder bag, purse, laptop bag or other item that is 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches (22 cm x 25 cm x 43 cm) or less. Mobility aids and other assistive devices are also permitted.
  • Flight changes and refunds are not allowed – Ticket changes are not allowed with Basic Economy, including advance and same-day changes. Refunds are not allowed except as stated in the United 24-hour flexible booking policy.
  • Certain MileagePlus and Premier member benefits are not available– If you’re a MileagePlus member, you will still earn award miles based on the fare and your MileagePlus status. However, MileagePlus members will not earn Premier qualifying credit or lifetime miles or toward the four-segment minimum, and they won’t receive some benefits. See more details below.
  • Last boarding group – With Basic Economy, you’ll also be in the last boarding group unless you’re a MileagePlus Premier member or companion traveling on the same reservation, the primary cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card or a Star Alliance Gold member.

United’s big change is allowing you to purchase seat assignments, if available, until check-in opens. This is something American has been doing for a while so it’s no surprise that United has copied American also started doing it. I guess it will give United an excuse so they don’t have to hear complaints from families seated separately like the passengers next to me on our flight to Chicago.

Final Thoughts

So in the last six months, American has decided not to leave you stranded if you book an Basic Economy ticket, Delta will start charging you for checking any bags when flying to Europe and Africa and United will let your family sit together if you pay them for seat assignments (if available). These changes do not make booking a Basic Economy fare any more appealing to me and I’m sticking with my decision that these fares are not for us. I’ll pay up to the economy fare or fly with Southwest or JetBlue instead. I don’t think that was the result the big three airlines were hoping for when they rolled out these fares.

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Darlene February 5, 2018 - 9:53 am

Thanks for the info. Just purchased two regular economy seats on United. I agree with you in that basic economy is not worth the savings. But, it really really ticks me off that this whole basic economy/economy scenario even exists. File it under “Rip-Off Report”! Not to mention, are the gate agents and FA’s going to take the time to enforce this? Are the going to go to look at the size of the under-seat items both at gate and at each seat for compliance? I think not. After all, on-time departures would be worse than they already are.

joeheg February 5, 2018 - 11:25 am

Basic economy customers board the plane last in their own boarding group so gate agents will easily see if you are bringing a bag that is too large. United will also not let you check in online for a basic economy ticket if you are not checking a bag. That way the agent checking you in at the airport counter can see if you are trying to bring a bag that is too large and have you check it.

Mike S February 7, 2018 - 7:50 pm

The info on Delta is not true at all. I just bought 4 basic econ tickets for travel in Feb and chose my seats

joeheg February 7, 2018 - 9:39 pm

I’m curious about what the route (cities) were with your ticket? The policies on the Delta website still say “With Basic Economy, you will not receive a seat assignment until after check-in or at the gate. Passengers traveling together, including families, may not be seated together.” I’ve not heard any instance of people booked in Basic Economy being able to select seats.

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